Heroes Week: Merlin Mann

Once upon a time, Merlin Mann was a slinger of productivity porn. His website 43 Folders was a mecca for idle eyes looking for the latest and greatest in aspirational geekware. He sang the praises of the Hipster PDA, the DIY pocket planner, the Moleskine, Quicksilver, GTD, kGTD, the now-defunct Stikkit, and much, much more. It was a fantastic, shiny way to imagine yourself as a doer with a rock-solid tasklist and a squeaky-clean inbox. (Even if you weren't.)

And don't get me wrong: It was awesome and I read it. But that's not enough to make him one of my creative heroes.

Then, sometime last year, Merlin had something of an epiphany and stopped writing about all of that stuff for a while. When he emerged from his months-long radio silence, he wrote a lovely essay on how he'd been blind but now he could see. The problem is this: Reading about all of that shiny stuff -- software, business books and office supplies, basically -- is not productive. It's the opposite of productive -- in fact, a killer way to keep yourself from doing productive things. So now he's become a prophet, speaking the holy words we all need to hear:

Doing stuff is way better than reading about doing stuff.

I don't know about you, but that's a message I need kicked into my head. And not once, but over and over and over again. So I read the Mann, and I am reminded: Andrea, you are only doing actual work when you're actually creating something. And while some thinking, planning and research may be necessary for you to create, don't for a second confuse those things with actual working, because they're just not the same thing. At the end of the day, no matter how many cool apps and calendar hacks and email foldering strategies you've got, you still have to do the work to get it done.

That bears repeating: The only way to get work done is by working.

So now Merlin's posting again, a bit sporadically, perhaps. And each time he does, there's a new subtext to it: This is how Twyla Tharp or Ze Frank get on with just trying to make their best stuff. This is the point. Aspiration without action is completely worthless.

I don't want to be Merlin when I grow up, so he's not in quite the same category as my other People I Admire. I'm not sure the internet could handle more than one of him anyway. But his work is actively trying to help people like me become what it is they want to be when they grow up, and hot damn if that isn't intensely admirable.